Netball: England add three coaches to set-up

By Jess AndersonBBC Sport
Jess Thirlby, Sonia Mkoloma, Liana Leota, Olivia Murphy
Jess Thirlby (left) has added Sonia Mkoloma, Liana Leota and Olivia Murphy (left to right) to her coaching team

England have added three former international players to their coaching staff as they prepare to defend their Commonwealth title at Birmingham 2022.

Ex-England players Sonia Mkoloma and Olivia Murphy, and former New Zealand international Liana Leota will work under head coach Jess Thirlby.

"I feel privileged that these three have taken this leap," said Thirlby.

The Roses stunned hosts and favourites Australia to win their first Commonwealth gold medal in 2018.

Mkoloma, who won 123 England caps over a 16-year playing career, has worked with the Roses since 2019 but will now take on the role of assistant coach full time.

Murphy, who is assistant coach to Sara Bayman at Loughborough Lightning, joins as a technical coach, as does Leota, who continues to play and coach at Severn Stars.

"They all bring something different, but we are aligned with where we want to go," Thirlby said.

"We want to reach the Commonwealth Games final and we want to be the first England team to reach a World Cup final."

Thirlby's selection headache

As the Superleague season moves past halfway and the countdown begins to Birmingham 2022, focus has begun to turn towards who will be in the Roses squad.

Thirlby says she has "20 athletes who could all make the 12" and wants to create an environment where there is competition for places and "people feel they genuinely have a shot".

"There's some great young talent out there, and there are players who are in their 11th or 12th season and still able to sustain performance levels," she said.

With many of the Roses stalwarts competing in the Australian league, Thirlby has questioned whether the UK's domestic set-up is preparing players for international competition.

"Am I seeing performances in the Superleague with the intensity and consistency that we will need when we have to be at our best and beat the best in the world?" she said.

"I've seen it in pockets, but I want to try and help to get all of our Superleague training environments as close to professional as we can, not just in terms of payment, but the support services and the backroom.

"We need those networks in order to sustain what we hope will be an incredibly competitive, if not the world's best league, in the years to come."

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